Monthly Archives: September 1999

Double Jeopardy (1999)

“I can shoot you in the middle of Mardi Gras and they can’t touch me.” Well actually Ms. Judd, they can. You see the rule of double jeopardy is not to be tried for the same crime and same occurrence. Both have to happen for the rule of double jeopardy to succeed. If a thief stole a jewel and was sent to prison then once released stole the same jewel; can he be tried again for the same crime? Of course he can! And so can you my dear Ashley.

Moving on now that that logistic bump in the road has been covered. Double Jeopardy has all the pieces of a thriller but somehow they never cohesively form to make any semblance of a truly exciting and tense caper. The elements are there, but it’s just not working. The setups occur but the payoffs seem to be very unrewarding. The biggest problem is all of the film’s plot lines and twists were displayed prominently in the trailer and commercials, so the entire audience is five steps ahead of the characters. Tommy Lee Jones surmises the same role he’s had for the entire decade of the hard-boiled detective on the hunt for a man. Double Jeopardy is essentially no more than The Fugitive 3. And what kind of prison does Ashley go to where they let inmates cut their own hair with sharp scissors unsupervised?

The booming starlet Ashley Judd plays our wrongly convicted and vengeful heroine most effectively. But what man in their right mind would trade Ashley for Annabeth Gish? Ashley has this enticingly warm aura around her and a smile that will merely melt your heart. This woman was made for pictures; her face is etched in beauty and has twinkles reminiscent of the elegant early days of cinema. This is a ravishingly beautiful woman that deserves to be smattered on the big screen… and she can act too.

Double Jeopardy is at its heart a standard and rather ordinary thriller. It does nothing to rise above mediocrity, but is at a level of contentment with where it’s at. You may not bite your nails much with tension but you’ll become better acquainted with your watch.

Nate’s Grade: C

Advertisements

Jakob the Liar (1999)

In the fickle entertainment industry, little can be as detrimental to a film’s success as bad timing. And the latest Robin Williams’ weepy not only suffers from poor timing, it cuts its own throat with the careless mistake. Coming hot on the heels of another World War II comedy/drama known affectionately as Life is Beautiful would have proved much better if the foreign film had stayed in the art house screens and quickly come and gone. Instead Roberto Benigni’s touching film made its way to big screens, broke the record for best receipts of a foreign film in America, and went on to steal the nation’s hearts and pick up three Oscar statuettes. The Hollywood version of Benigni’s Holocaust fable proves what happens when people take something that was a miracle it worked once before, and so well, and try catching lightening in a bottle again.

Jakob the Liar is never truly any form of comedy, unless you thought Hogans Heroes was in dire need of a big screen adaption because all the other Holocaust movies did not accurately portray the wackiness that was Nazi Germany. Most of the jokes are so grim and morbid that you’ll be gritting your teeth more than smiling.

The story can be very hamfisted and forceful at times, interesting considering there’s not much driving any story. And the end is scene-for-scene exact with Benigni’s flick. Most of the performances are marginal, with many appearing to be weary that they’re even in the movie. The story’s addition of a little girl that Williams’ takes under his wing for guidance is more of a distracting subplot taking attention away from the common thread of one man giving hope to the hopeless. Minus one charming scene with Williams’ improvising a radio broadcast with kitchen utensils she’s mainly a pointless addition.

The splinter in the paw of this movie is Robin Williams himself. Anyone out there remember when he used to do comedy, not schmaltzy bittersweet tug-from-the-heart-strings melodrama? Though his mugging is restrained for the most part, the sentimentality burns thin rather quickly. The movie tries to manipulate you and letting the floodgates loose with those tear ducts, but it’s so clear it’s not going to make you feel but manipulate that you can very easily see the strings as they’re being pulled.

Jakob the Liar does have a good director at its helm to show the Holocaust as the grim reality it was and not sugarcoat anything. A great deal of gratitude should go to the director for at least partially saving Jakob from being worse than it could be. Though I’m of the mind that I’m positive audiences will love it and most likely bash me, I just want everyone to know that Roberto Benigni did it earlier and better and I’d stress seeing that movie instead.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty balances between dark comedy and moving drama not only well but tremendously on target. It’s a slice of life showing the dark side of a faceless and cold suburban life. The deterioration of a family and the escape of one man as he realizes the trivial nature of the things that get in the way of seizing life. American Beauty is not a rose for everyone but it’s one standing out from the pack screaming to be picked.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, the husband and father of our story’s family. Life has been sucked dry from his system and he’s lost interest in everything he holds around him.

Annette Benning plays Carolyn Burnham, mother and wife. She breaths the mantra, “To be successful one must present an image of success at all times.” like she was beating a Bible until it bled. She’s a woman whom image is everything, and looking good is all that matters. She has become so detached from her family and life that she has actually lost her humanity in the hunt for success while waving her cheerful smile as a mask that eludes to the superficial inside. Carolyn is a woman who refuses to let herself fail or have weakness, and those around her to make her seem weak.

Thora Birch, of Alaska and Now and Then fame, is the estranged daughter to Spacey and Bening. She feels alienated from her parents, and despises them from easily seeing through each. Thora discovers new ways to feel contempt for her parents with each day. She is a repressed child who is looking for an outlet of understanding and help. Enter pot dealing creepy new neighbor Wes Bentley. He sees true beauty where no one could, and is the escape and shoulder that young Thora has needed all her life from her monstrously neglectful parents. Wes videotapes everything in an effort to keep the memories of beauty alive to venture back and relive the moments. He shares his prized image with Thora one day, that of a plastic bag inflating and deflating with the autumn breeze as it swirls around almost balletic dancing. The image is mesmerizingly hypnotic and you understand that Wes is a character who looks beneath the surface and most likely the most noble in the entire movie.

Mena Suvari switches from sweet choirgirl from American Pie to ditzy teen vamp. She is a person who feels such insecurity for herself that the only happiness she can arrive is from being wanted by other people. She must have acceptance in some form or another, and “ordinary” to her is a worse word than “ugly.” She acts like a teen nympho but in the end reveals that she is really an innocent young girl desperately wanting to be liked and wanted.

There are other characters that round out the cast; a brief appearance with Scott Bakula who makes a quantum leap into a gay neighbor, Allison Janney as the mother to Wes and the silent hollow image of a wife she has become to socially hide her husband’s secret, Chris Cooper again as an abusive father who’s maliciously homophobic but hiding a devastating secret deep within, even Peter Gallagher with the biggest eyebrows you’ve ever seen as a suave real estate mogul that knows how to cater to Carolyn’s thematic problems.

The basis of the story hinges on Lester’s reawakening. He is a man going through the motions of life like a walking dead man. A man who tells people that even he wouldn’t remember himself. Lester is an unhappy cog until viewing his daughter’s friend Angela (Suvari) at a high school basketball game. At first glimpse she becomes the intense object of his desire and obsession, and his focus on life centers around this young gal. But with that moment Lester’s life is broken, and his eyes are opened for the first time in a very long time. He sees the trite redundancy with the day-to-day grind of ordinary suburbanite life. Lester breaks free and does what he wishes, he is a free man. Free of his job, his nagging ice queen of a wife, free of all worries and fears.

As far as Oscar races go, all others don’t even bother filling out an application for an invitation – Spacey has Best Actor locked. He might as well start clearing a space on his shelf next to the one he got for The Usual Suspects. Spacey is so wonderfully wry and self degrading that he transforms into an actually likeable almost laid back hero for the audience. They know his tragic fate and feel good when he gets the most he can with each day, and not letting himself be pushed around anymore. Benning is also delightful and wickedly hilarious in her materially overzealous soccer mom. Birch is excellent showing the pains of alienation and showing that despite what her character thinks she is really the last person on earth who needs a boob job. Director Sam Mendes’ first feature after touring the theater circuit shows his devotion to characters and actors with subdued symbolism layered between every frame of film. I say Oscars should go all around and this movie deserves a good swapping of gold statuettes.

I could go on talking about the depth and characters for hours but I’ll just stop here and say that you won’t see a more engaging, compelling, and brutally honest and sadly funny film in the entire year of 1999. One of the best films not only of this year but of the entire decade.

Nate’s Grade: A

A Simple Plan (1998)

Not as simple as one would be led to believe. A Simple Plan offers great ensemble performances, never-ending suspense, and great execution at telling its tragic fable–all the while making a statement as one of the best films of 1998.

The core and real punch of the picture comes from its two main characters linked by blood but not by much else. The trouble all begins when the bothers and a buddy come across a downed air plane in the forest. with $4 million inside. The idea arises that they should all keep the money and hide their secret from all others. Hank resists at first but the promise of the money draws him in to becoming apart of the plan.

You could say the film’s like a Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Fargo but this gives disservice to director Sam Raimi. The man famous for splatterfest horror outings shows great maturity in pulling something off like this so well.

The acting is some of the finest of the year, well I guess it would be last year. Paxton gives his best performance of his career, and Billy Bob Thornton does for backwater townsfolk what DeNiro did for psychos. My favorite would have to be the Lady MacBeth wife of Hank, played chillingly by Bridget Fonda. Her moral high ground disappears at the sight of the money and she drastically turns into a brooding and malicious character. In bed she whispers plans for her husband to hide his tracks or set up his partners to take the fall. That’s where A Simple Plan turns into a devious game of each other suspicious of the next, and falling victim to their own greed. The money brings out all the true feelings each has for the other that had remained buried inside.

Add a haunting score by master maestro Danny Elfman and you have yourself one fine feature.

Nate’s Grade: A

Bats (1999)

It’s almost reassuring to see a film like Bats arrive at your multiplex. It means that in an industry fueled by big names and big effects that a cheesy B-movie can still make it through production like the legions that spooked so many naive baby boomers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now. It is, after all, a B-movie.

Bats tries to be the winged mammal version of The Brids except not nearly as good. The “story” is of a mad scientist who genetically creates a race of super bats. Why? Well maybe the real question you should ask yourself is why not? Unfortunately the bats get released into a small sleepy town in Texas. The officials catch on, the populace refuses to believe, then… oh what does it matter?! You’ll be able to predict the rest faster than you can tie your shoelaces. Create a plot in your head to fill the void of this one. In my version of Bats space aliens came down and there was an intergalactic civil war between bat-people and humanity’s only source of hope in a band of four teenage girls each with amazing powers. This is what happens when you have to fend for yourself for entertainment.

What should be the most interesting part of Bats turns out to be the absolute lamest: the bats themselves. Were they created in some lab or did they just hibernate out of Fraggle Rock with a thirst for blood? They resemble small dogs with wings in all the amounts of quick-cut closeup shots to hide the fact that they didn’t have the budget to film more than six bats at one time. I don’t know if they’re supposed to come off as frightening or not, but mass hysteria from muppets just doesn’t seem too overwhelming to me.

If Bats were played for camp value it might be a moderately redeemable sense of dumb fun like Deep Blue Sea was earlier this year. Instead the bat wranglers try playing it for scares and skewed laughs, but the scales sure don’t come out even upon viewing. The flick really is laugh-out-loud bad like when one of the characters actually sells out humanity to help the bats, or the distraught and reckless teenagers getting their comeuppance for staying out after curfew like in so many other bad B-monster movies. This movie won’t be appearing on anyone’s resume list in the near future. I think even the Key Grips were ashamed to have had any hand in this. You can’t help but feel Bats missed its window of opportunity for success around the time film went to color. The only screaming you’ll be hearing anywhere in the vicinity of Bats is from people just realizing they spent seven dollars on this thing.

Nate’s Grade: D

Stigmata (1999)

From the director of Blank Check comes the latest religious up-in-arms controversial picture billed to your local theater. While being wrongly labeled a horror flick, this movie is nothing to get excited over if you take your religion seriously. Because this movie sure doesn’t, and the only ones that will be influenced by this hour and forty minute music video of blood would simply be the gullible.

Patricia Arquette plays Pittsburgh’s young and nubile atheist hero and the finest hairdresser in town, when she isn’t bleeding over her customers that is. Well the party girl gets in touch with some rosaries and has violent seizures and fits, as well as experiencing strange wounds and lashes akin to the wounds of Christ. Faster than you can say “Mulder and Scully where are you?” the Vatican dispatches priest Gabriel Byrne to investigate the bizarre goings on. What he soon discovers turns him into a believer and turns the Catholic church scared that Christ is coming back and brandishing some mean hickory. Paddlin’ line starts west of Rome.

It’s not that the idea is totally repellent or half-baked, but the movie is turned into an MTV video with legs. With all the hyper-editing and pounding electro music from Pumpkinite Billy Corgan you’ll be thrashing in your seat having a violent seizure yourself. The over stuffing of cuts and more blood than a Red Cross drive can’t cover up a head scratcher of a storyline.

The script has so many glaringly logistical problems stacked up everywhere trying to present themselves as pious dogma. Stigmata is merely the recreation of Christ’s wounds, not soul possession. How in the world Arquette becomes the working girl version of Linda Blair is beyond logic. The movie also perceives that stigmata can be transmitted by touch. It’s not an STD people, we don’t need pamphlets trumpeting safe religious reenactments in schools do we? But the biggest hole is not the notion there’s a Catholic conspiracy hiding valuable works of Jesus that may be a threat to their job security. After all the fuss and the build up the hidden passages and books are nothing more than a basic Sunday School lesson. Is this what everyone’s shaking in their gowns over? I’ve seen more religious danger in a Denny’s breakfast menu.

Stigmata is a glitzy and loud poison pen letter to religion. It’s got an incomprehensible storyline and wastes the great actor Jonathon Pryce for the role of a villainous Catholic Cardinal always within reach of his cell phone. Stigmata is an example of what the movie industry is serving out these days: all style, no substance if any, and without any semblance of common sense. So of course it’s destined to make a killing at the box-office.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club is a movie that will kick you in your teeth. It’s the adaptation of a sort of anarchist handbook by David Fincher, the man who gave us the grisly masterpiece Se7en. Fincher’s latest re-teaming with Brad Pitt is a disturbingly gritty tale of politics and violence.

Ed Norton plays our un-billed narrator through the harrowing tale of fascist propaganda and anti-social behavior. Norton dwells in a world of cubicals and consumerism. He meets Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden on a flight and the two instantly connect. Norton moves in with Pitt into something resembling the Munster’s house once his own apartment has exploded. Pitt and Norton find the therapeutic realization through fighting. These fights grow larger and build up into clubs where all the guys are fighting to get in to get their head slammed on concrete. These clubs start turning into neo-fascist soldiers of fortune as they try to ambitiously grow and destroy the reality of consumerism. It kind of spins out from there and never returns back.

David Fincher’s direction is ultra slick and highly stylized. He is one of the most lavish and intriguing visual artists of this decade. He really knows how to pump out excitement and vivid hypnotism from striking images and tones strewn apart every inch of letter-boxed form. Norton has the same commanding presence and magnetic performance that he flashed so brilliantly in last year’s American History X. Norton is the one that runs the emotional gambit and shows just how it should be done. Brad Pitt takes on a role none have seen (Does anyone remember Pitt splicing porn images into children’s films with Legends of the Fall?) and once again proves there’s a calculating and superb actor behind the pretty face. Helena Bonham Carter goes leaping against type to play the bumbling Goth love interest with such charm and humor. And Meat Loaf will really surprise as a pathetic breast enhanced friend to Norton.

Fight Club speaks to a world where men feel they have been robbed of what has historically defined them; a world with Oprah, The English Patient, and self-help groups telling them to cry, be kind, rewind. All of the social consciousness has made some men feel less like their upright ancestors. So Fight Club‘s proposition is that to freely express your emotions you need to either be pummeled into ground round or be the one doing the pummeling. The notion is a tad laughable. Fight Club is a flick with so much on its mind to say that it brisks from topic to topic sometimes not dwelling as much as it could. The twist ending is unnecessary and is something that truly comes out from left field.

Fight Club has been criticized for it’s promotion of violence, but if anyone actually sees the film the violence is gruesomely repellent. No kid is going to walk out of this and think it would be cool to start a Fight Club in their local suburb. The movie is an interesting mirror to our always-on-the brink commercial society, and its push toward a kinder gentler civilization and its effects on the male psyche. Despite some oddities at the end and some fascistic rhetoric, Fight Club is an exciting blend of suspense, action, and dark humor. Go ahead and break the first rule of Fight Club – tell your friends about the adrenaline kick this movie is.

Nate’s Grade: A

Stir of Echoes (1999)

Another one? Yes and no, you see Stir of Echoes may be the latest supernatural scare-fest released but it proves itself a worthy competitor to The Sixth Sense. Director Koepp, the man among boys when it comes to screenwriting, provides enough eerie chills through the movie without having to go back to the well for any cheap scares much. The direction and unveiling of the story is very well done for the movie’s overall tone.

The meat and bones of this picture is Kevin Bacon. He throws down all the doors and delivers a riveting performance that is most likely his career best. But what about Wild Things you say? Well indeed Kevin showed his bacon in that movie, but in Stir of Echoes he beautifully captures a man breaking down by forces he can’t understand or control. He is magnetic with his character and provides real merit to the film’s compelling case for credibility in The Sixth Sense‘s powerful shadow. Another bright face in the movie is Kathryn Erbe playing Bacon’s suffering and distant significant other. She delivers a rock-solid performance to coexist with Bacon’s descent into madness. She may not get the credit she deserves but she quietly shows her acting prowess in every scene she’s in.

The movie does seem to run out of gas 3/4 of the way through, switching over from mysterious supernatural chiller to run-of-the-mill revenge from beyond the grave scenario. The end is mostly predictable but no less effective. Some of the characters could have been fleshed out better to have more purpose for the finale but I guess you can live with how things are.

In any other given summer Stir of Echoes would be destined to be a critical and commercial success, but then along came The Sixth Sense. True that there are some similar plot points but both movies are worth while complete with some chills themselves. Stir of Echoes does deserve to get more than a look in this new genre that’s being heavily populated by filth. Besides, it’ll allow you a few more people to link to Kevin Bacon whenever a party game arises.

Nate’s Grade: B

%d bloggers like this: